Can fracking firms win public support through social media by replicating the whimsical style of Taco Bell’s Twitter account?

That was one of the goals discussed at an Energy Digital Summit event with Brittany Thomas, an external affairs coordinator for Cabot Oil and Gas, a leading hydraulic fracturing company.

Big corporations, major retail chains and fast food brands have attempted to improve their image and score points with millenials by embracing social media slang. “We thought we were bae,” tweeted AT&T, in a typical message of the style repeated ad nauseam by other corporate accounts attempting to interact with customers. (Definition of bae.)

Thomas explained to a conference room full of industry executives last summer why it matters that Taco Bell once needled White Castle on Twitter over the correct usage of “you’re.”

“It’s a person tweeting this,” Brittany exclaimed. “I geek out about this stuff and I tell my family,” she continued, “and all of the sudden your message has left the social realm and it’s at people’s dining room tables and they’re telling their coworkers. It’s the reason why Twitter tends to drive the news now. It’s funny when things go viral!”

“That’s a dream of mine, that we all talk amongst ourselves and interact like other brands do,” Thomas said.

Oil and gas companies are steadily increasing their footprint on social media, hiring specialized public relations firms and developing “visual shorthand” infographics that can be shared easily on Facebook and Twitter.

For Thomas, social media presents a cost-effective way to win hearts and minds.

Beyond tweeting like a millennial, Thomas encouraged the participants to consider other platforms. “The younger generations are on Instagram now. Vine might be the new Instagram,” she noted. “Chevron prints should be on everything because that would be adorable.”

All of this matters because the Internet provides a forum for sharing positive content about your company, messages that can help drown out critics, she explained.

“It’s easy to attack a corporation, it’s harder to attack the person you see everyday when you’re getting gasoline,” Thomas said, noting that social media messages from the company should come from workers, local politicians or “anyone who has received funding for a scholarship.”

Well Said, a “Cabot community blog” used to curate the voices of Cabot workers and other supporters, Thomas explained, “was just a way to humanize the Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation.”

And positive publicity could pay dividends for the corporations, especially for the myriad of regulatory and environmental issues the industry faces. Thomas noted that her company had studied how to defeat a proposal in  Pennslyvania that  would have forced drilling companies to pay over $300 million in new taxes,  but she said other companies might want to deal with climate rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cabot Oil, the fracking company that employs Thomas, has also faced its own share of negative press, including incidents of contaminating local drinking water and storage tank spills.

How to deal with negative attention online? Thomas explained that she regularly screens comments.

A participant in the meeting raised his hand, agreeing with Thomas’s points. “Some people say, you can’t get involved because they’ll just start trolling us,” he told the group. “Well that’s why they created the delete button.”

(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)

Photo: Bethany Clarke/Getty